Where kin against kin is
fact of life
War With Terror
Afghanistan - As American missiles began to fall yesterday, the anti-Taliban
forces here prepared for new fighting that they know could pit family
of the Northern Alliance said they hoped to launch ground attacks against
the Taliban soon, in conjunction with U.S. and British air strikes. Last
night, soldiers huddled around shortwave radios, listening to the BBC
accounts of the air attacks.
Abdul Habib, a Northern Alliance soldier here, new fighting means he may
meet up soon with his brother - in combat.
month ago, the traders who carry goods and intelligence across the
battlefront brought news to Habib: The Taliban had conscripted his
15-year-old brother, Osif, and had moved him to the front line.
Habib, 20, who became a soldier five years ago, the thought that the next
wave of Taliban attackers might include his little brother does not strike
him as either ironic or sad, but just a fact of life in a country that has
known only war all his life. He says he would not hesitate to kill his
is nothing to do if my brother advances on me but to shoot back," he
said. "If they are coming and they shoot on us, they would kill
Afghanistan civil war is often portrayed as a religious conflict: the
fundamentalist Taliban against an alliance of groups opposed to its rigid
interpretation of Islam.
the soldiers at the front line rarely say they object to the Taliban's
religious beliefs. To them, the Taliban represents ethnic Pashtuns, the
largest ethnic group in Afghanistan, that rose to power with the aid of
neighboring Pakistan. Most of the alliance fighters are Tajiks and Uzbeks,
whose families trace their histories to Persians and Turks, traditional
rivals to the Pashtuns.
so the armies facing each other at the various front lines are not two
anonymous forces. The combatants are often neighbors, sometimes of
different ethnic groups. As with many civil wars, families sometimes find
themselves on different sides of the battle.
the fronts, the rival commanders know each other, often from fighting on
the same side during one of the configurations of alliances during the
last 23 years of war. They chat on the radio and urge one another to
Northern Alliance has no unified command structure. Rather, it is a
coalition of local chieftains with militias who have often fought together
in the holy war against the Soviet Union's occupation. And often, the
local chieftains fight among themselves, as they did following the Soviet
withdrawal in 1989, creating a vacuum that was deftly filled by the
troops are our relatives, our neighbors," said Pir Mohammed, the
commander of this rugged stretch of raw wilderness, scarred by long
earthworks and tanks entrenched in defensive positions. "They're
people from our area. They're with us now; they were with us during the
jihad; and they're with us in the future."
in northern Afghanistan, hardly seems worth defending. A wind has kicked
up so much dust that a thick haze hangs over the valley - the air and the
earth the same hue of tan. The Taliban positions are barely visible,
distant mirages in the fog.
Mohammed's entrenched command post outside Taloqan, the troops do not
appear to be on high alert. Cut-up playing cards were scattered in the
dust after the commander declared card playing un-Islamic. There is little
else to do.
soldier, who gives his name as Jura, says he is 15. He is not yet ready to
fight in the front trench, so he mostly prepares tea and the greasy rice
dish that is the staple of the Afghan diet. He eagerly picks up a
Kalashnikov rifle to pose for a photographer.
of the dozen or so soldiers stationed at the post are not wearing uniforms
- some wear sneakers, leather jackets or two-piece chemises that look like
pajamas. They say they are required to provide their own clothes.
say they had to bring their own weapons.
who wears a trademark mujaheddin felt wool cap, says many of the soldiers
have family members fighting on the other side, often conscripted by the
Taliban. Such was the case with his brother.
months ago, when the Taliban captured the provincial capital of Taloqan,
Habib and his family fled their farm for alliance-controlled territory.
But after the opposition failed to retake Taloqan, the family grew more
desperate to survive. Last winter, Habib's parents and most of his
siblings decided to return to their farm.
to the story he heard from the traders who thread their pack animals
through the lines, the Taliban took his brother from the family farm about
a month ago.
they don't go to the front line with the Taliban, they put them in prison
or beat them," Habib said.
said his brother, like himself, never received an education. Schools were
shut during the anti-Soviet jihad, and the Taliban curtailed nonreligious
couldn't continue my education when the Taliban came, so I took up
arms," Habib said. He can't read or write.
soldier recently learned that the Taliban had conscripted his brother,
Magid, who said he is 18 or 19, has already served in the military for
more than one-third of his life. He said he joined after his father, a
mujaheddin fighter, was killed in internecine fighting. Five brothers
joined the militia to avenge their father's death.
is the only one who remains a soldier. Two brothers moved to Pakistan to
avoid the fighting, and two others live at the family farm near Taloqan,
assuming the head-of-household role once held by their father.
heard recently that the Taliban had arrested his brother, Aman Ulah, 25,
and put him on the front. He said his brother couldn't escape because the
Taliban would return to his farm and punish the remaining brother.
his compatriot Habib, Magid would set aside his personal feelings in the
event he came face-to-face with his brother during a conflict.
shoot at him," Magid said. "He shoots at me. If you have to kill
your brother, so be it. Right now, he is my enemy."